Jeff & Will dive into the third book in the Walker Boys series from Ari McKay as they talk about Seeking Solace, a sweet and sexy vacation romance. As always, in our book club discussions there are spoilers ahead so keep that in mind if you haven’t read the book yet.

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Show Notes

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Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Book Club, following a summer hiatus, on Thursday, September 28.


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Will: Welcome to episode 318 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast. The show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will Knauss with me as always is my co-host and husband. Mr. Jeff Adams.

Jeff: Hi everybody.

Will: This is the Big Gay Fiction Book Club episode for the month of June. And this month’s pick is the sweet and sexy vacation romance, that just happens to take place aboard a cruise ship, “Seeking Solace” by Ari McKay.

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Will: Well, let’s not waste any time. Let’s dive right into “Seeking Solace.” This story is about Paul, the air to a luxury cruise line. He’s setting sail for the very first time, but not as the son of the owner. He’s going to be an executive with the company, learning about the day-to-day business of one of the ships and the cruise line, which isn’t very far from the truth.

Since Paul is being groomed to take over from his retirement-minded father.

When he comes aboard, he strikes up a conversation with Devin, a friendly and very handsome bartender in the ship’s lounge. Now Devin is new to Triton Cruises, but he loves it so far. And Kate, the hospitality manager, asked Devon to serve as a liaison by which she basically means babysitter for a new executive sailing with them, and surprise, it’s Paul.

Since Devin will be serving as Paul’s tour guide, he suggests that if he really wants to get a feel for the ship, Paul should probably dress a little less formally, you know, blend in, be a little more casual. That way, the employees will be more comfortable and feel less like they’re being judged by someone from corporate.

Devin lends him a Hawaiian shirt, and Devin likes what he sees. Paul is pretty hot, but keeping things professional is the best course of action.

Jeff: I think I’ve seen the “Poseidon Adventure” too many times.

Will: Oh, good lord.

Jeff: And then they actually named the ship Poseidon’s Pearl on top of it.

But where I was headed with that, not that the ship’s going to like turn over or anything or I’m frightened for these people’s safety, but I really like this opening scene because it was one of those scenes that so well set up who Paul was, set up, who Devin was, set up what the ship is, gave you a little bit of the lay of the land of things.

It had a really nice cinematic sort of opening for me. And it was just all the more because, you know, once you name something, Posideon’s Pearl and even the concept of Triton Cruises somehow plays into all that for me. So I was in a very happy place opening with this book.

Will: Paul watches as Devin works the bar on the Lido deck, getting an idea of how the crew members take care of their passengers. He even stays and watches as Devin and one of his coworkers, Jill, put on a demonstration of flair bartending.

Later, when Devin inquiries about Paul taking part in some of the activities at their various Caribbean ports of call, you know, snorkeling and that sort of thing. Paul says that he won’t be partaking because he doesn’t wear shorts. Because he’s an amputee, and he doesn’t like how people react to his prosthetic limb. Devin is sensitive to this, but he also insists that it’s Paul’s life to live. Screw what anybody else thinks.

Jeff: Devin’s good people. I mean, you can get that right off the bat. I mean, he initially is treating this scenario of, as you aptly put it babysitting corporate. He doesn’t even take it that way from the beginning, he’s genuinely there to help Paul do his job, to understand what he needs to find out about the ship, how it works, and everything, but he’s also being genuinely friendly at the same time.

And then for him to essentially take the news about the prosthetic leg and be like, you know what? You should just do you. And screw these other people who are looking at you, askance, or giving you grief because of this leg. You deserve the same wearing shorts as anybody else.

Will: When the ship docks at Grand Cayman, Paul goes ashore shore with Devin, and they take a moped to the far side of the island to a local place that Devin insists serves the best food on the entire island.

Jeff: Everything about this port of call I enjoyed so much. There’s a couple of these in the book, and Ari McKay did such a wonderful job of bringing these places to life. It was like I had gone out a little bit of a vacation myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It makes it the perfect book to read right now since this is the June pick. It’s perfect for that vacation getaway moment.

Will: They sit at a table overlooking the beach and share conch fritters, fried plantains, and some rum punch. After that, they go for our friendly walk on the beach, filling each other in on the basics. You know, Devin is part of a very large family, the Walker clan. Paul, he’s an only child. They hunt for seashells while talking about Paul’s visit on the ship and his future with the Triton Cruise Line and how work is no real substitute for having an actual life. And they also discuss a little bit about Paul’s shaking confidence and how it’s still an issue after a bad relationship and the car accident that took his leg.

Jeff: Paul’s ex was a world-class dick. Let’s just put it that way. He can do so much better, like Devin, for example.

There’s also some really nice little life messages thrown in here too, because at one point, Paul says that what he’s doing is what he wants to be doing. And he’s not unhappy, but Devin rightly says not being unhappy. Isn’t the same thing as being happy. Words we can all live by it, I think.

Will: Paul is genuinely enjoying the time that he’s spending with Devin and joins some the next night for a behind the scenes peek at what it takes to put together the midnight buffet. An event everybody aboard the ship looks forward to with its luxurious displays full of sumptuous food.

They observe the chefs prepare everything. And then the food is set up in the dining room for the passengers. And this I thought it was particularly adorable. They unsettled low-key flirt with each other and got in line with the other passengers to sample all the delicacies.

Jeff: There’s such a nice, easy rapport between these two, right from the get go. And you watch it bloom ever so nicely from even the first time they meet to Devin sharing some of his casual clothes onto what they were doing at Grand Cayman. And now into this scene.

There’s a wonderful mix of. Getting the job done that, you know, the Devin is supposed to be doing and Paul’s supposed to be doing, but also this nice undercurrent of flirtation slash friendship slash building something more between the two of them, whatever that’s going to turn out to be at this point.

And that would like me some of that buffet too. I would stay up late for that. I’m so not a night owl. I might take a nap and get up and go to the buffet.

Will: Yeah, you’re right. What’s really cute. as they’re eating, they’re having a relatively benign conversation, kind of like first date talk, but they keep finding ways to complement each other and finding little ways to tell each other how amazing they think they are.

It’s really freaking cute.

They build a realistically, no, they should be keeping things, you know, a hundred percent professional, but they just can’t resist. And it’s not like in an “errrr” I’ve got to have him kind of way. It’s just like, they’re just having fun, and they like each other. It’s really, it’s sweet. And it’s really cute.

Jeff: It’s the building of a friendship that’s also a little bit flirty that, you know, is going to head to a romance. It’s really delightful.

Will: Devin takes Paul to a secluded part of the ship, where they dance in the moonlight underneath the stars. It is super romantic. I even wrote it like that in my notes, super. They kiss for the very first time and talk about how our shipboard romance wasn’t on either of their radars, but they’re willing to set aside fears of being hurt and take things slow and see how things go.

Jeff: Which I thought was pretty amazing since even while Devin doesn’t know who Paul really is in terms of how high up in Triton, he’s going to be. You’re still sleeping with management at this point and maybe having a romance with management. So it was an interesting choice to make, but go Devin and Paul, why not. What happens on the ship stays on the ship.

Will: That is unless they sail into an exotic port because the next morning, after a shift and docking in Montego Bay, Devin takes Paul for another shore excursion. While shopping, they don’t seem as concerned with going slow as the night before. They both have every intention of acting on the desire that they share. And for dinner, they head to a local hotel and beachside restaurant run by a friend of Devin’s.

Jeff: Devin knows everyone, everywhere.

Will: She’s a former Triton Cruise Line employee. They’re seated out on the patio on the beach and have paella and rum punch and have a, not so subtle conversation about how great Charleston is. That’s where Paul lives in the city Triton Cruise Lines is based out of and how it might be perfect for the restaurant that Devin hopes to open one day.

Jeff: As with all things Walker Boys, all of these Walkers want restaurants or food in their future.

Will: Food and romance that’s what the boys are all about. They dance on the beach to the Calypso beat of steel drums and decide that they’re definitely not going to go slow, and they end up getting a room at the hotel for the night.

Jeff: So super sweet. Devin is so good for Paul. To help him re-find his confidence. I mean, after, oh, I can’t do that. I’m not going to do that. Within minutes, Devin has him doing that. In this case, it’s dancing to the Calypso music on the beach. Just a really nice easygoing guiding Paul back to essentially finding his whole self again, after the accident and the breakup.

Will: Once in their room, Devin does a sexy striptease, and they playfully and erotically explore each other. Paul is still apprehensive and self-conscious about his scars and prosthetic, but Devin is kind and reassuring.

Paul is everything he could have ever wanted and so much more. The rest of the chapter details every sensuous moment that they share because it’s been a while for each of them, and they are each intent on giving and receiving all the pleasure that they possibly can. And boy, do they succeed.

Jeff: This might be the most sensual of the sex scenes we’ve seen in the Walker boys books. It’s just so sweet and so wonderful and so exploratory, and just it’s fireworks that are both subtle yet massively intense at the same time. I really enjoyed this scene.

Will: The next morning, Paul slips out to a tourist shop to buy a change of clothes, including pairs of shorts for each of them. Paul is in the mood to go to the beach, and while lounging in the sand he opens up about the car accident that took his leg and how he now feels like he’s living instead of just existing.

Jeff: It was mean though to have that moment of horror of like, oh my God, he’s gone. I’ve screwed up. At least he left a note in a very visible location for poor Devon, but there was that moment of panic waking up going, where did he go?

This scene falls, as so much of this book does, into the nice guys doing nice things and talking. These guys talk a lot, and it’s a really good talk for both of them. And it was just a delight to read, you know, that being one of our favorite things these days, it should almost be a trope of its own good guys doing nice things and talking a lot.

Will: Well, now we’re at the halfway point of the cruise. And though Paul has work to do, he spends every available free moment with Devin. A few nights after their shore excursion, Devon uses the private chefs’ kitchen to cook a meal for Paul, demonstrating his culinary expertise, preparing his family’s famous barbecue rib recipe.

Jeff: Because, of course, those ribs had to make an appearance here somewhere.

Will: He tells tales of his hometown while he cooks. And Paul wonders what it would be like to be serious enough with Devin to warrant meeting the extended Walker clan.

Jeff: It’s a ballsy move, asking to come to meet the family this early in the relationship.

Will: But this doesn’t scare Devin off. He would love to take him. A few days later, they awaken in each other’s arms. The ship has docked in Galveston, which means that the cruise is over. They each have work to do now that the ship is back in port, and they reluctantly part ways with plans to meet up later at the hotel room Paul plans to get for the evening.

After helping passengers with debarkation, Devin meets with Kate, remember her from the beginning of the book. She offers him a position as a sous-chef in the kitchen, culinary job track something that he has wanted ever since starting at Triton. Kate tells him that in her earlier meeting with Paul, he praised Devin highly. And any recommendation from the future president of the company is okay by her. The news of Paul’s real identity throws Devin for a loop.

Jeff: Uh-oh. There’s a conversation they should have had while they were talking about all kinds of other things. I just groaned when that happened. It’s like, oh, you shouldn’t have said that.

Will: He can’t believe Paul didn’t tell him the truth. They’re obviously two different people from very different worlds. Was this job promotion a way of Paul thanking him for the fun, but now they need to go their separate ways? I mean, it’s all a lot for him to process. And Devin has some time off. He heads back home to Buffalo Lick to figure out what he’s going to do now.

Jeff: I wanted to shake him for going home because the thing that you should be doing is going what the hell to Paul instead of just running away from it. But it certainly made for a good, dark moment for everything to just kind of fall apart right there.

Will: Now when Devin doesn’t show up like he and Paul plan, Paul realizes what has gone down. He doesn’t know how he’s going to make it up to Devin, but he’s going to find a way to fight for his man.

Back in his small hometown, Devin is busy moping and rehashing all the things he must’ve gotten wrong when it came to him and Paul when he receives a call from his cousin, Liam. Would he like to come help in the kitchen at the resort in North Carolina?

Devin has already decided that he won’t be taking the promotion aboard ship. So he asks Liam for some time to think it over. Paul, meanwhile, has made his way to Buffalo Lick. And since he doesn’t know where Devin actually lives, he goes to the Barbecue Shack, which Devin and told them all about in their discussions about his hometown. He talks to Beau and Jake, pleading his case, wanting an opportunity to explain things to Devin. Beau reluctantly agrees to hear him out. And eventually agrees to let Devin know that he’s in town, but whether he’ll listen to Paul is completely up to him.

Jeff: I really liked how Beau handled this. On the verge of becoming the very defensive person, you know, protecting his family, but then also wanting love to kind of maybe find its way. And he left, I think just enough intimidation in Paul that Paul knew that he shouldn’t at least mess around with Devin in the long term. Like, you know, either do it or don’t do it, but don’t hurt him. I love this scene a lot.

Will: Devin, as it turns out, does want to talk and goes to Paul’s room at the local Holiday Inn, where they are able to hash things out. And talk through all their feelings and the misunderstandings. They may have only known each other for a short time, but in that time, they have known each other and fallen in love.

Jeff: Awwww.

Will: And after making use of the nearby bed, they make plans for the future.

In the last chapter, we flash forward to a year later. Devin has made Charleston his new home alongside Paul. There’s a short but amusing scene while the two of them are frolicking on the beach. One day they run into Paul’s ex, which is a wonderful opportunity for Paul to finally get some closure on that particular chapter of his life and say, look how fabulously happy I am. It’s pretty great.

Jeff: And he is fabulously happy now. Take that person who walked away with that was at my lowest of low.

Will: It’s also in this chapter that we see that Devin has been working very hard on the opening night of his very own restaurant, and as they prepare for the big night, there might just be a proposal in the works. Because if there’s one thing the Walker Boys love other than romance and barbecue, it’s a proposal and a happily ever after.

Jeff: Such has been the case each and every time.

And this was really nice. Everybody got what they needed. Devin got the guy of his dreams and a restaurant to fulfill his culinary desires. Paul rebounded from everything that had gone on with his ex and the car accident that had so destroyed his confidence in so many ways. He no longer just has to be not unhappy. He gets to be happy. I’ll just tie it back to my favorite line in the book.

Will: I certainly love Devin and Paul’s story. Do you have any thoughts as we wrap up our discussion of “Seeking Solace”?

Jeff: It’s possible this is my favorite of the Walker Boys books. It’s really difficult to pick a favorite, but I really liked the setting of this one on the cruise ship. I liked particularly how these two came together and kind of went from dealing in the workplace with each other to very quickly becoming friends and then letting that friendship and attraction grow into the love that it became.

It was a delightful trajectory and it was really nice too, to see Paul be able to come back to his former self as confident and doing the things he liked to do and probably better than he was before, even before the accident, in some ways and embracing the person he’s supposed to be.

Will: Yeah, like you, I really enjoyed the vacation vibes. It’s just so satisfying. It plays right into everybody’s Love Boat fantasies of what a cruise should really be like. And after the year that we’ve all had, I really felt like I needed this tropical getaway.

Jeff: Without even having to leave your home.

Will: What was really interesting is, that this one, of course, it’s my second time reading this book. I’ve talked about the Walker Boys on the podcast before I read them all when they each came out the first time, and as I’ve revisited “Seeking Solace”, I found myself really responding to those vacation vibes far more than I did when I read it the first time.

And I think that probably just plays into the general fantasy that I need right now of getting away to a tropical locale, feeling the sand beneath your toes, eating wonderful food.

Jeff: Maybe some rum punch.

Will: Well, definitely some rum punch. I could use some of that right now. What was really funny is that each time Devin and Paul go to shore they, walk around and see the sights and eat wonderful food. And what’s really funny is I don’t even like seafood, but I was like so hungry for some conch fritters and some rum punch. And it was like, yeah, I’m so into this right now.

Jeff: Douse anything in enough batter and fry it. You may not even know. But Ari McKay does food really well, and that’s been true across the three books. So it’s not surprising that it could get you into conch fritters.

Will: Yeah, wonderful food is a through line through each of the books in this particular series. And as I was thinking back to the books that we’ve read over the last couple of months, I don’t think I have a particular favorite because I think each book satisfies a specific trope in its own romantic way.

In the first book “Striking Sparks”, that was the story of Beau and Jake and all the emotions that they had to work through while competing in a televised barbecue competition. And what I loved about that particular book is it really leaned into the second chance aspects of their relationship. As well as the enemies to lovers things that they were working through while at the same time, trying to cook and win this competition for various reasons. As I said in the book club episode, when we talked about Striking Sparks, there’s a lot of layers that those two characters had to work through, and I really enjoyed that.

In the next book, “Breaking Bonds”, that was the story of Liam and Carter. And while I enjoyed the sexy antagonism of Beau and Jake, I feel like the authors kind of went in the opposite direction because there’s such an enjoyable, relaxed way that Liam and Carter interact and flirt with one another. Plus, the whole plot of Breaking Bonds is like pure Hallmark Channel movie gold.

As they’re trying to work together to…

Jeff: Save the inn.

Will: Save the inn and refurbish the kitchen at the resort. I could read stories like that every single day for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy, happy.

And the third book “Seeking Solace”, is thematically and in terms of plot, maybe the simplest of all the books, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less satisfying because what we’ve got going on here in Seeking Solace is it’s just a vacation romance, and it gives you everything that you need, you know, beautiful ports of call, sun sand, and food. Finding an unexpected romance aboard a ship. I think what “Seeking Solace” might lack in complexity. It certainly makes up with in heart and the way it explores this particular idea of wish fulfillment for the reader. I mean, God who wouldn’t love to go on a beautiful tropical cruise with the man of your dreams right now?

Jeff: Should we book a cruise?

Will: I wouldn’t go that far necessarily.

Jeff: Yeah. There’s something. And this is what edges out. Seeking Solace just a little bit from the other two. And it is that wish fulfillment. It’s the vacation setting. And it really, these two, there was something about this couple that just was a little bit more for me, and I’m not diminishing the other two books at all cause I really love this series as a whole, but there was just a little something more just about these two, their personalities, what they’re working through and how they come out on the other side that just really worked just that tiniest little bit more like if you were going to put it on a scale or something, it would be like a little 10th of a percent that nudge this into being my favorite of the series, because I really like how different each of these books are to the degree that you’ve actually got a family centered series here that doesn’t take place all in one town, even. I mean, Buffalo Lick is the home base for the Walkers, but these books only the first one takes place in Buffalo Lick. We don’t even get to Buffalo Lick in book two at all. And in this one, we’re only there for a couple of chapters.

So it’s really spread out, and each of the Walkers is so very different from the other, except for that love of food. That goes through the family that it was really nice to see a series set up that way.

Will: Yep. Food and romance. It’s a combination that just can’t be beaten.

All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday in episode 319, we are joined from Jay from Joyfully Jay and Lisa from The Novel Approach. We’re going to hear about what they’d been reading recently.

Jeff: It is some good stuff. We’re going to talk about six books that they’ve been reading. Plus, we’re going to hear about a couple of picks that they’re looking forward to as we get deeper into summer.

Will: Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, stay strong, be safe, and above all, else keep turning those pages and keep reading.

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